This is Why Extreme Policies Become Normal

Not all political debates are created equal.

Some political debates have proponents on one side who are incredibly passionate and forceful, and advocates on the other side who don’t care as much, or at least aren’t willing to risk as much. When this happens, you can expect the policies surrounding those issues to reach an extreme point of equilibrium, one that is probably not healthy for society.

It occurs to me that this is one of the inexorable weaknesses of democratic and republican forms of government. Like the fireman problem, it’s an irrational process that’s baked into the system.

One easy example of this is criminal punishment. When running for office, it’s an easily defensible position to be tough on crime. It is much harder to take the position that is sympathetic to convicted criminals who face extreme sentences.

In each election cycle, more politicians get elected by claiming to be tough on crime, and put into place more extreme policies.

Eventually, you get to a point where it is not abnormal to have a case such as Ewing v. California, where the Supreme Court, a group of nine Ivy-league educated judges, decided that it is not cruel and unusual punishment to sentence someone to life in prison for writing a forged check for $120. This is now the law of the United States, which has few constitutional or moral limits on the extreme nature of how we punish even minor crimes.

I fear that the same is now becoming true of immigration policy. Those who favor anti-immigration policies are much more passionate than those who support a more moderate immigration policy. The anti-immigration camp is willing to go to war over the issue, and most who support a liberal immigration policy often prefer to pick other battles.

Before 1921, the United States didn’t have much of an immigration policy at all, other than a few haphazard racist and exclusionary policies aimed at the Chinese and other groups in particular disfavor.

But, given the passion of those against immigration and the relatively mild response for those in favor, I think we can expect a trend toward more restrictive and draconian immigration policies. This will happen until eventually our immigration policies resemble the punishment regime in our criminal justice system, where an extreme position has become normalized.